01/09/2013 07:43 EST | Updated 03/11/2013 05:12 EDT

Problem gamblers get class-action win from B.C. court

A B.C. Supreme Court justice has given a pair of problem gamblers the go-ahead to certify a class-action lawsuit against the BC Lottery Corporation after it allegedly denied them $75,000 in winnings.

The plaintiffs, Hamidreza Haghdust and Michael Lee, are among more than 6,000 British Columbians enrolled in BCLC’s self-exclusion program, which means they’ve admitted to a gambling obsession and agreed to have the corporation bar them from its gambling establishments.

But like many in the exclusion program, Haghdust and Lee did go into casinos – and got lucky. Haghdust claims he won $35,000 since agreeing not to gamble and Lee claims he won $42,000.

But when they went to claim their winnings, BCLC invoked the rules of the voluntary self-exclusion agreement, which stipulates that those in the program can’t collect winnings.

Did not deny them entry

Both men say that withholding their winnings is unconscionable, especially given that officials did not fulfill their commitment to prevent them from entering casinos in the first place.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice John Savage says it makes sense for the men’s claims to be joined as a class action, and to represent others who have a similar complaint.

At least 300 self-excluded gamblers have been denied winnings since April 2009, the lottery corporation says.

In documents filed with the court, the BCLC said it started in June 2009 to use a licence-plate-recognition surveillance system to help identify self-exclusion program participants, which has led to almost 4,000 entry denials.

The corporation also said that between 2007 and October 2011, a total of more than 36,750 program participants were denied entry or removed from gaming facilities.

Some self-exclusion participants have tried to sue the BCLC in the past because it failed to deny them entry to casinos, which resulted in huge losses for the gamblers.